Our host, Malcolm also has bee hives on his property and two other collection of bee hives on other people’s property (this is by agreement and an added incentive of free DELICOIUS honey). He places his bee hives close to native bush, so that the bees have more than just clover to get pollen and make honey from. If a hive is on a farm, the bees are dependent on nearly one type of clover that blooms on farmed land. That of course can be disastrous. If the clover doesn’t bloom, the bees don’t get enough food. So, yeah, that’s the reason he puts his hives near native bush, so they have options for nutrient.
Before we could set off for the hives, we had to get the equipment ready. The most important, in my book, was the box full of protective gear. That went onto the trailer first. After that we loaded up a bunch of used, but dry hives. He called them wet boxes. These we would put on top of a happy hive and the bees would clean the excess wax and honey off for him. Then the box could be stored and used later? I’m not sure exactly what their purpose was. We needed lids for these wet boxes as well. Next we needed the box full of medicinal strips for the bees. These strips were actually the whole reason we were headed to the hives. There is some kind of mite that attacks and kills bees. These strips are coated in a medicine or pesticide. The bees go about their business, rub against these strips and then are safe from the mite. Also important was the smoker. Just that, a device to puff smoke at bees. The smoke calms them and also makes them leave the hive (handy when putting the boxes back on and you don’t want to squash a bunch).
We were set! The trailer was loaded and we were off. Our first go had about 14 hives in it. We suited up a good distance away from the hives. Our get up was the traditional white suite, white and mesh bonnet and above the elbow length gloves with thick leather on the hands. I felt rather like an astronaut. It was difficult to do anything once the gloves were on.
It was quiet. Only a few bees buzzing about, minding their own business. That was the calm before the storm.
The moment we opened a hive, the noise level increased significantly. As did the bees in the air. They didn’t like us getting into their hives at all! I wish we could just tell them it was for their own good! Eamonn and I both stood over the first hive fascinated by what we were seeing and learning.
Each hive is made up of multiple bee boxes. At least one box on the bottom is reserved for the nursery, where the queen bee lives and lays her eggs in the wax cells. Then after however many boxes are allocated for child rearing, there is the Queen Excluder. It is a wooden frame with thick wire barring the way. There is enough room between the wire strands for a worker bee to get through, but not enough room to let the queen bee through. The reason that the queen needs to be contained, is so that the honey produced in the upper boxes of the hive can be collected. If the queen were to get into them, she would ruin the honey by laying eggs in it (yuk). As I have kind of said, the upper levels (above the Queen Excluder) are where bee keepers would get their honey. Above these levels is a lid with a small whole somewhere in the top and middle where bees can enter and exit. Above this is another type of lid that overhangs the edge of the box, protecting the top entrance whole from the elements while still providing a way to get in. There is also a small entrance at the bottom of the hive. We put mouse protectors over those.
It was a whirlwind of activity as we steadily worker our way through each of the hives. Some hives were in good shape and full of bees. Some bees were more aggressive than others. At one point, Malcolm had a bee in his bonnet! (He had told us earlier that if we get a bee in our bonnet, to keep it on! One bee is better than hundreds. Good reasoning.) He was, as one might guess, eventually stung by said bee in his bonnet. But he persevered and we finished adding the mite-protecting strips to the hives.
All in all, Malcolm ended up with four bee stings; two on his forehead, two on his wrist. Eamonn received one half-sting on his wrist after he’d taken off his glove. I, somehow, managed to get stung on the top of my foot, while still wearing the full protective gear. I have no idea how the little bugger got into my boot! And it hurt! Worse for the bee I am sure, but still, it was my first bee sting. Since I didn’t swell up or end up with pink splotches all over my body, I can now safely say that I am not allergic to bee stings. Yay!